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VOL. 129 | NO. 56 | Friday, March 21, 2014

 

Rested Grizz Prep for Playoff Push

By Don Wade

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Historians, not to mention members of the 1985-86 Boston Celtics bench, will note that in the Grizzlies’ recent victory over the Utah Jazz the Memphis bench shot 42.9 percent: significant because it ended a stretch of 14 straight games of the bench shooting 50 percent or better, the longest such streak in the NBA since those Celtics did so in 15 consecutive games.

But for the Grizzlies, now a season-high 13 games over .500 at 40-27, the more critical streak was the three straight days off after a 3-1 road trip before playing the Jazz on Wednesday, March 19 at FedExForum.

“This is not a young team anymore,” point guard Mike Conley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of miles on their body. Any rest is good rest.”

Zach Randolph and the other Grizz veterans enter the home stretch of the season after an extended period without games, something that could be important as Mike Conley said “any rest is good rest.”

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger conceded there was risk to not practicing a couple of days – losing rhythm and all that – but ultimately decided the rest was more valuable. And it’s hard to argue. The Grizzlies had a 16-point halftime lead on Utah. Then the Jazz tied the game 84-84 in the fourth quarter.

But that was when the Grizzlies found renewed energy, holding Utah to 1-for-9 shooting over the last 5:39.

“It was understanding that we needed this game more than they did,” guard Tony Allen said.

“Defense, that’s the only thing that’s going to take us where we want go,” center Marc Gasol said.

Where they go on Friday, March 21, is to Miami to play the defending NBA champion Heat (Grizz guard Mike Miller picks up his second championship ring from his Heat days) and then they return to FedExForum the following night to play Indiana. The Pacers own the best record in the Eastern Conference and already have notched 50 wins.

“A big test for us,” Allen said of this back-to-back.

But not a test that needs to consume the Grizzlies. After all, it’s still the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors that matter most.

“You get overwhelmed thinking about who you are playing next,” Conley said. “You really do just have to think about one game at a time.”

That said, it’s worth looking at what the Grizzlies have done since Gasol returned from his knee injury: going 23-8 (.742). Given that, it’s difficult not to look forward to them playing the Heat and Pacers and seeing how they measure up against two of the league’s best teams.

“They’re going to be tough games,” Joerger said. “Miami is a tough matchup for us. They’re going to play four guards, and I’m counting Shane (Battier) as a guard. They’ll try to front Zach (Randolph) and try to spread us out and shoot threes.

“The next night we play Indiana, who makes the game slow because they’re so good defensively. So we’re going to need a big crowd on Saturday. Hopefully the (Memphis) Tigers get their W on Friday and everybody’s feeling real good.”

Certainly, the Grizzlies are feeling better at home. After early struggles within the friendly confines, they’ve won eight straight home games. Gasol, of course, never gauges things just off wins and losses or streaks, but that sense of how the team is playing.

In many ways, Gasol is the Grizzlies’ toughest critic.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “But I strongly believe we have been playing better, especially defensively. There are still points in game where we lose control and the other team feels a lot better but, for most part, I’m pretty happy with the way we’ve been playing.”

Conley agreed.

“We’re getting better in a lot of areas,” he said. “We just need to continue to play hard, compete defensively, take pride in it. Teams are respecting us a lot more, seeing more of the old Grizzlies.”

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